Updated: Jun 13, 2022
With the murder of George Floyd by police, protests have sparked all over the world. All fifty states, more than seven hundred U.S cities, and at least seventeen countries have united in protest, calling an end to systematic racism and police brutality. Black Lives Matter now marks a civil rights movement—one of the largest in history. Now, it is time to learn, to understand racism, and to evaluate how one can dismantle this system.
No list of books can allow us to express the breadth of inequality that Black people have experienced historically and presently. However, in an effort to educate ourselves, to sear this moment into our history, and to begin untangling the knots that years upon years of oppression have wound tight, here is a list of seven books you can read to understand the systematic racism that prevails in our world and how you can begin to fight it.
Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
An artistic experience that is both brutal and necessary, this piece is a book-length poem woven with several forms of text, media, and artwork; with this compilation, Rankine critiques the blindness America assumes when handling microaggressions, backlashes, and violence against Black people in this country.
This text is an advocate for visibility. To achieve change, we all must be willing to stare racism in the eyes and acknowledge it. Rankine pulls you in close and demands you to look.
2. Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay
Is your feminism intersectional? If it isn’t, then it’s not real feminism. Different types of oppression intersect—they are connected; it is all a result of white supremacy. This book of essays explores intersectional feminism, discussing the issues of women of color and queer women and how those issues are often left out in the conversation of feminism. This is a must-read for understanding how one’s brand of social justice could potentially be contributing to white hetero-patriarchal ideals.
3. Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
A love song to Morrison’s Beloved, Sing, Unburied, Sing illustrates the lasting psychological effects of racism and what it means to carry the weight of an entire history on your back. This narrative depicts a story of a young black mother traveling across the Gulf Coast with her two children to retrieve their white father who has been released from prison. Along the way, the three narrators—Leonie, Jojo, and Richie—must confront the historic injustice and violence that tethers them.
4. Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
Friday Black is a debut collection of short stories that delves into themes circling black identity; with a setting of near-dystopia and elements of magical realism, Adjei-Brenyah confronts issues such as consumer-culture and collective dependency on violence in relation to racism. The opening piece, “The Finkelstein 5” is sharply relevant as it concerns a society’s acts of protest after five black children are murdered by a white chainsaw-wielding man. Friday Black forces you to witness the violence of racism as well as the microaggressions enacted everyday. This book makes people pay attention.
5. Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer
In the title story of this collection, a young black woman recently admitted to Yale observes the way students and teachers contribute to white supremacy in a University setting. However, she soon befriends a white girl who forces her to recognize her internalized homophobia. This story comments on intersectionality and upholding the white hetero-patriarchy, and, with her book as a whole, Packer provides an exploration of privilege and subverting what is considered the default or ideal identity in a society.
6. White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People To Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo
There is a perpetual idea that if one is not actively participating in overtly racist acts, then they are not racist. In this image, racism is something reserved for Nazis and your one grandpa who lives in Alabama and dresses solely in Trump merchandise; this image is not helpful and prevents a large majority of the population from recognizing their own racism. In order to make any progress, everyone must be willing to evaluate how they are perpetuating and upholding the white hetero-patriarchy. This book brings to light how white people, even those who “aren’t racist,” promote a system that benefits them.
7. So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
In her nonfiction text, Oluo discusses the complexity of the current racial landscape. She explores several pieces—microaggressions, intersectionality, police brutality—in the endless atrocity of a puzzle that is white supremacy. This book explains how we are complicit to racism in ways we might not realize. Like it’s title implies, it offers ways to start a conversation about systematic racism.